Happy Reading

Toni's bookshelf: read

The Godfather of Kathmandu (Sonchai Jitpleecheep, #4)
Ape House
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Operation Napoleon
Walking Dead
The Sentimentalists
The Heretic Queen
The Midnight House
Cross Fire
Peony in Love
Finding Nouf: A Novel
City of Veils: A Novel
First Daughter
A Place of Hiding
Peter Pan

Toni Osborne's favorite books »

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"The Rembrandt Affair", by Daniel Silva

Book 10, in the Gabriel Allon series

For those who are thriller addicts, Mr. Silva has to be one of the main suppliers; he is at the top of his game when it comes to satisfying the needs of avid readers and their quest for endless action and suspense. “The Rembrandt Affair” is a fascinating fiction, a blend of international espionage, art theft and murder that is well-written, fast-paced and populated with a remarkable cast of characters. Gabriel Allon, the protagonist, is an accomplished art restorer and a skilled Israeli spy when called upon, a hero for all seasons with a stellar success rate.

The plot opens with Gabriel and his wife Chiara enjoying a little down time in the scenic coastal town of Glastonbury. They are recovering from the traumatic aftereffects of their heroic rescue from the murderous hands of a Russian oligarch (the previous novel “The Defector”). When Gabriel learns an art restorer has been found murdered and a priceless painting by Rembrandt is missing, he is unable to stand by and do nothing. He soon finds himself back into the tick of thing and in full investigative mode with the help of his trusted cohorts. This latest caper, tense at times, unravels at a fast and suspenseful pace with many twists and turns right through to the climactic ending.

The storyline is sad, very emotional and heart wrenching at times but this meaty novel is very smartly written and engaging. The sub-plots are also very interesting on their own; they mirror some of the information that sufficed about the role Swiss banks and the Catholic Church played during WW11 and the looting of art by the Nazi elite.

I was so into this novel I burned the midnight oil to the last page.

"American Assassin", by Vince Flynn

Book 11, in the Mitch Rapp series

This latest political thriller brings us back to 1980 after Pam Am flight 103 disaster took the life of Mitch Rapp`s fiancée over Lockerbie Scotland. Mitch was then a 23 year old college student, a mere shell of what he later became. As in all the previous Flynn novels, the writing style is intense, very character and plot driven.

The story starts with Mitch, a new recruit being trained for a special covert program within the CIA. The author goes into great details describing the type of training needed to succeed in the program. As the plot thickens Mitch is sent on a special operation to Beirut where his skills and intelligence are put to the test to help rescue fellow CIA operatives held captive. The real action starts (what we seen previously was just a teaser) when a fight breaks out and our heart rate goes into high gear, we soon find ourselves page deep in the middle of a blood and guts, torture and murder scenario. Mitch’s past skills and his ability to improvise under duress are put to the test to complete his mission and survive what turns out to be a well laid trap.

All the favourite characters are back: Director Thomas Stanfield, Dr. Irene Kennedy, and Stan Hurley, all heads of the terrorist squad confronting the war on terror. Mitch Rapp is the perilous hero who furnishes all the action and brutality needed to satisfy any thriller novel junkie. Once more, Mr. Flynn has created a fictional story with explosive scenes based on a Westerner’s perception of modern day terrorism, he emphasizes their ideologies and mindset and how they use kidnapping to make a point.

The timing for this novel is excellent although it may have been rushed in its publication: some mistakes have slipped through that may annoy some readers….All that said and done, I am hooked on this series and this is one of the best instalments to date. The action is fast and furious, very engaging, an adrenaline rush from start to finish.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Box 21", by Grens & Sundkvist

Also published under the title “The Vault” in the UK

Book 2 in the Ewert Grens series

The novel holds two main stories that are dark, extraordinarily sad and definitely not for the faint at heart. Both threads involve one of Stockholm’s best detectives Ewert Grens.

The first plot opens, with the release from prison of a notorious criminal; Jochum Lang. Detective Grens who has personal and professional reasons, feels Lang is a threat to the public, a hard core criminal and he makes it his mission to put him back behind bars. Grens strong feelings are based on an incident that happened twenty five years earlier. His colleague and girlfriend at the time was beaten to within an inch of her life and has been institutionalized ever since, a case that haunts him to this day. When Grens discovers that criminal bosses are hiring Lang as a strong arm he seizes the chance to send him back to prison.

The second plot is fast paced and full of credible action with a sad tone, another case Detective Grens is working in parallel that is demanding much of his time and skill. Lydia Grajauskas and Alena Sljusareva are two Lithuanian girls who have been tricked into leaving their country only to become sex slaves and property of the man they call Dimitri-Bastard-Pimp. We first learned about the girls when they are into a three year old nightmare servicing 12 clients a day, their moral at the extreme low and often beaten into submission. One day Lydia was so badly beaten that the neighbours called the police and was transported to the hospital. Her terrifying ordeal is revealed and at the same time she seizes the opportunity to fulfill a dream, take matters into her own hands and escape the hands of her captor.

The writing is crisp and steadfast with short chapters that shift back and forth between several colourfully portrayed characters: the criminals, the victims and the cops. I found it rather hard to get into this tale at first but once I became familiar with the writer’s style and phrasing, it all fell into place, at this point the story gelled and I was hooked.

I like this novel; it is a complex and intense psychological thriller that delivers a brutally intimate view into the drug and sex slave trade.

"61 Hours", by Lee Child

The 14th novel in the Jack Reacher series

The novel starts off with the same pattern as the previous installments, still portraying Reacher as tough and a cerebral drifter that is plunged into an implausible chain of events that only he can solve. Always traveling light, this 6 foot 5 inches cowboy wins every fight against all odds and always breaks the heart of at least one woman before moving on. Mr. Child is a master at the game of suspense, injecting original twists to keep us on the edge of our chair. For example, the title “61 hours” is a countdown (Tick tock tick tock) to the end, a gimmick that worked beautifully and kept me guessing and wondering to the last page.

The plotting is crafty and highly electrifying, in this story, Mr. Child has moved his protagonist from a warm climate to South Dakota and marooned him in small town during a winter blizzard , where the wind chill can easily reach 50 degrees below zero and everything grinds to a halt and survival becomes a challenge even for the experienced. The town of Bolton is the home of a brand new correctional facility and the budding center of a criminal nucleus being set up at an abandoned cold-war military installation by a gang of methamphetamine-dealing bikers.

The events unfold with ongoing riots at the prison and the town’s police force on constant high alert stretching its manpower and facilities to the max, all this is feared to be a distraction for an ongoing prominent drug trial. The key witness, a woman, has been threatened by the local hired hands of the cartel and powers that be fear for her life. With a priority on checking all new comers, Reacher’s name and background are quickly flagged by law enforcement and he is soon recruited. His experience tells him something big is looming and he volunteers to help protect their crucial witness. At this point, the writer goes into great detail recounting a conversation between Reacher and the witness, a conversation needed to bring him up to speed, to help ease her nerves and aid in his ability to see potential threats. Mr. Child’s has written this segment with a clear and gutsy prose, an interesting exchange of worlds that enhanced the mystery even more.

As the story progress, several mysteries develop and the explosive results have Reacher sent on a harrowing end of the world do or die mission. The climax is a little silly but is laced with gripping suspense creating a genuine cliff-hanger. Has our hero survived for another installment?

This is one of those novels I classify as an entertaining thriller.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Of Flesh and Blood", by Daniel Kalla

This powerful new suspense, the 6th novel written by physician Daniel Kalla, is a family saga set in the world of medicine. This multilayered story is told with a physician's point of view and portrayed with all the triumph and heart break of life and death. The author has combined his experiences in the ER with a devastating tale of family secrets, doomed relationships and present day medical disasters. Although not intended as an autobiography, I feel it represents reality in many ways. The setting for this drama is the Alfredson Medical Center, a fictional facility on the outskirts of Seattle.

The novel starts with the background into and the birth of a now 100 + year hospital, the brain child of Dr. Evan McGrath, whose dream was to never refuse a patient in need. The trials and tribulations Dr. McGrath endured to bring his dream to life and the price he paid such as losing the love of his life and the continual friction with the hospital financier, Marshall Alfredson, creates a compelling story.

We follow the story from a dream to a renowned medical center through its financial crisis that threaten its future, its scandals and conflicts, medical disasters that shattered individual lives, cover-ups and the invasion of a super bug, all stories on their own. Through all of this the two families settled their differences one by one and remained faithful to the ultimate dream. We can all see the comparison in this fictional story with what we are living today.

"Of Flesh and Blood" is mostly character driven, a multigenerational story with multiple protagonists most related by blood or association, a family based story where women play an important part in the equation. One character stands out: Dot Alfredson, a spunky and eccentric ninety year old, a collector of erotica memorabilia that loves playing a cat a mouse game with her nice. It is her narrative that skilfully bridges the present to the past in the long family history. This gripping story expertly intertwines romance, history, conflict and ethical dilemmas, Mr. Kalla brings a refreshing style to medical thrillers that I enjoy quite a bit, he is one of my favourite medical novelists.

"Silent on the Moor", by Deanna Raybourn

3rd book in the Lady Julia Grey series

This latest tale is a mix of fiction, romance and mystery, which has Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane at each other like stray cats while around them there is revenge, death and many skeletons in the family closet.

Lady Julia heads north with two of her siblings to Grimsgrave, to help Brisbane get his newly acquired house in order. It is an estate located in the moors of Yorkshire that has fallen into disrepair and the former blue blood owner, Lady Allenby and her two daughters are still in residence and are relying on Brisbane’s hospitality for their survival.

Upon her arrival, it was evident; Brisbane and Julia were not able to cordially work out a plan of attack so Brisbane left in a huff. Julia’s curiosity soon had her prying onto the Allenby’s family and Grimsgrave history, not realizing this would lead to an eventual nightmare of events. She finds herself caught up in the study of Egyptology and on the wrong side of Gypsy mythology that will place her and others in peril, especially Brisbane…..

As in my experience with Ms. Raybourn’s previous novels, I found the introduction uneventful and long-winded. The endless bickering between Julia and Brisbane and the friction with Lady Allenby and her daughters soon became an irritant. Keeping my mind on track became a challenge but I was determined to see the outcome, I purchased the novel so I felt obliged to see the end. All that said and done, it was fun trying to guess who tried to rid the world of Brisbane by poisoning him. I may be a bit critical but 3 novels later I have the same complaints: lack of mystery, deprived of stimulating suspense and an atmosphere of romance that is as cold as the castles of the time. The main characters have become boring and one-dimensional to a point where I question if I will continue reading this series.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"If the Dead Rise Not". by Philip Kerr

Book 6, in the Bernie Gunther series

The readers are carried deeper into Bernie’s saga in this terrific story that flips from 1934 Berlin into the rapidly changing world of 1954 Havana. The blend of madness and murder mixed with the Nazi and the Batista era creates an action packed backdrop for an exciting read and Mr. Kerr knows how to spice it up and to deliver it well.

1934, Germany is preparing to host the 1936 Olympic Games.

The action begins when Bernie, the house detective of the Hotel Adlon discovers the body of a German businessman with strong construction industry ties dead in his room. With a body and a multitude of clues, Bernie’s investigation propels him into a world of international corruption and dangerous double dealings involving American gangsters, corrupt Nazis and an insight into Hitler’s plan for the 1936 Olympics.

Meanwhile, Noreen Chalambides, an American journalist is also a patron of the hotel, she is on assignment to expose the Nazi regime and convince the American powers that be they should boycott the Olympics….Bernie soon finds himself infatuated by her charming personality.

Two thirds into the novel, the action switches to post war- Cuba 1954

After being expelled from Argentina (the previous novel “A Quiet Flame”) Bernie relocates to Havana with the hope of living a less stressful life under an assumed name. That soon changes when he runs into his old flame, the journalist Noreen, and is invited to her home for a dinner party. Bernie sees this as a chance to rekindle a previous relationship but he quickly learns Noreen has another agenda. Unable to escape his past and head first into the presence, he learns he is still the target of a vicious killer and due to his recent acquaintances he finds himself caught up in the smoldering rebellious movement which is being magnified by Fidel Castro incarceration.

Mr. Kerr’s stories are told entirely in dialogue, there is a lot of chatter going on mostly handled by Bernie, I love this, it makes you part of the story. I really enjoy Bernie, he is funny even when dealing with serious issues, he is not portrayed as the customary super hero as found in most novels of this genre. The plot is dynamic and captivating with many twists and turns and tense situations, an attention grabber to the last page. Although, highly entertaining the story is a tad predictable and less realistic than the previous novels, nevertheless following Bernie on his escapades is always a blast, and a journey into historical fiction.

I am looking forward to Bernie’s next exploits.

"Heat Wave", by Richard Castle

Book 1 in the Nikki Heat series

When I learned there was a novel on the market by Richard Castle, one of my favourite TV characters/ program, curiosity got the best of me. It appears this is creative engineering, a marketing ploy, an ingenious coup to make us believe the TV character Richard Castle is also a published writer. Who the author really is, is another mystery, judging by the writing style, my guess is that Castle’s poker buddies (well-known writers) who make guest appearances in some TV episodes have a strong influence behind the hit series.

The novel is entertaining and fun to read. The plotting is basic, creating a run of the mill crime story with some twists here and there. The narration is simple, short and sweet and the dialogue is similar to the characters on the TV show. The book’s main characters have different names, Jameson Rook (Richard Castle), is the fictional award winning writer/reporter suffering from a dry period. With the help of his political connections, he is given the opportunity to shadow Nikki Heat (Kate Beckett) and her team of NYPD detectives, hoping to gain ideas for a new book. Nikki is far more aggressive in her relationships and deals with the continual presence of Rook in a different manner than her TV counterpart Kate but the other characters play similar roles, the exception is Alexis, Castle’s daughter, who has yet to make an appearance.

As you can see, while reading this novel, I found it hard not to make comparisons with the TV program, it was easier to visualize the characters, and they really came alive in my mind.

The story “Heat Wave” is based around the investigation into the murder of real estate magnate, Matthew Starr, whose body was found at the base of his penthouse apartment. Detective Heat and her shadow (Rook) are assigned the case and as in the TV show, he constantly second guesses her observations adding humour by teasing her along the way….

Readers should get a kick out of this novel, I did. It may not measure up to best but after watching and enjoying the TV show it is hard not to like.